LONDON — For an ordinary politician, heading into midterm elections on an unsavory plume of scandal over cellphone contacts with billionaires and a suspiciously funded apartment makeover might seem like the recipe for a thumping. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain is not an ordinary politician.
As voters in the country go to the polls on Thursday — with regional and local elections that have been swollen by races postponed from last year because of the pandemic — Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party stands to make gains against a Labour Party that has struggled to make the ethical accusations against him stick.
Far from humbling a wayward prime minister, the elections could extend a realignment in British politics that began in 2019 when the Conservative Party won a landslide general election victory. That would put the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, on the back foot and ratify Mr. Johnson’s status as a kind of political unicorn.
“No politician in the democratic West can escape the consequences of political gravity forever, but Boris Johnson has shown a greater capacity to do it than most,” said Tony Travers, a professor of politics at the London School of Economics. “People see his behavior as evidence of his authenticity.”
defeated in 2014.
emphatically behind a new campaign for Scottish independence.
In the English elections, the big prize is Hartlepool, a struggling northern port city and Labour bastion where a new poll suggests that the Conservatives could win a bellwether seat in a parliamentary by-election. The Tories could make further inroads in other Labour cities and towns in the industrial Midlands and North, where they picked off dozens of seats in 2019, running on Mr. Johnson’s promise to “Get Brexit Done.”
The prime minister did get Brexit done, as of last January. Yet while the split with the European Union brought predicted chaos in shipments of British seafood and higher customs fees on European goods, its effects have been eclipsed by the pandemic — a twist that ended up working to the government’s benefit.
Although the pandemic began as a negative story for Mr. Johnson, with a dilatory response to the first wave of infections that left Britain with the highest death toll in Europe, it turned around with the nation’s rapid rollout of vaccines.
who picked up the initial bill for the upgrade of his apartment and why he was texting the billionaire James Dyson about the tax status of his employees, when the two were discussing a plan for Mr. Dyson’s company to manufacture ventilators.
But there is little evidence that voters are particularly surprised or concerned that Mr. Johnson does not play by the rules. As political commentators have taken to saying this week, the prime minister’s behavior is “priced in.”
The same is not true of Scottish independence. Analysts say Mr. Johnson’s government is not prepared for the wall of pressure it will face if the Scottish National Party wins a majority. The last time the party achieved that, in 2011, Britain’s then-prime minister, David Cameron, yielded to demands for a referendum. In 2014, Scots voted against leaving Britain by 55 percent to 44 percent.
Polls now put the split at roughly 50-50, after a stretch in which the pro-independence vote was solidly above 50 percent. Analysts attribute the slight softening of support to both the vaccine rollout, which showed the merits of staying in the union, as well as an ugly political dispute within Scottish nationalist ranks.
Mr. Johnson holds a trump card of sorts. To be legally binding, an independence referendum would almost certainly have to gain the assent of the British government, so the prime minister can simply say no and hope the problem goes away. But that strategy can work for only so long before becoming untenable.
“I don’t see any way in the world that Boris Johnson turns around the day after the election and says, ‘OK, you can have a referendum,’” said Nicola McEwen, a professor of politics at the University of Edinburgh.
And yet the calls could only grow. “If they manage to peel off a single-party majority,” she said, “it does put pressure on the U.K. to answer the question, ‘If a democratic vote isn’t a mandate for independence, then what is?’”
BARCELONA — Off a leafy boulevard in Barcelona sit the headquarters of Omnium Cultural, an organization known in Spain as much for its literary prizes as for its dreams of an independent republic in Catalonia.
But its president, Jordi Cuixart, is nowhere to be found: For the last three and a half years, he has lived in a prison cell.
To the Spanish authorities, Mr. Cuixart is a dangerous criminal, convicted of sedition for leading a rally at a time when he and other separatist leaders were seeking to set up a breakaway state in the northeastern region of Catalonia. Yet to his supporters, and in the eyes of many foreign countries, he is a political prisoner sitting in the heart of Europe.
“They want us to change our ideals,” Mr. Cuixart said, speaking through a thick pane of glass in the prison visitors’ section on a recent afternoon.
Mr. Cuixart and eight other men jailed for sedition are now martyrs who, according to human rights groups, are being held for nothing more than voicing and acting on their political views.
For the Spanish government — and for Europe as a whole — they have also become a diplomatic headache, raising accusations of hypocrisy against a region known for demanding greater democratic freedoms around the world.
Russia this year cited the Catalonian inmates to deflect calls from Europe for the release of Aleksei A. Navalny, the Russian opposition leader. The United States lists the prisoners in its human rights report on Spain and calls their jailing a form of political intimidation.
holding Hungary and Poland accountable to E.U. rule-of-law standards, some European parliamentarians noted a double standard: Spain, they said, held political prisoners.
a regional independence referendum in defiance of the Spanish courts. The national government in Madrid sent in riot squads, which seized ballot boxes and even beat some of the voters.
Separatists claimed victory anyway, despite the fact that more than half of voters did not cast ballots and polls showed that Catalonia was split on independence.
Defiant, the Parliament in Catalonia went ahead and declared independence anyway — only to suspend its own declaration before being dissolved by the Spanish government. By that time, Mr. Cuixart had already been arrested and other separatist leaders fled for Belgium.
In 2019, the courts sentenced Mr. Cuixart and eight others to between nine and 13 years in prison after convicting them of sedition.
“He is in jail simply for exercising his right to express himself,” Esteban Beltrán, who heads the Spanish office of Amnesty International, said of Mr. Cuixart.
the terrorist group ETA, which fought for decades for the independence of the northern Basque region.
“They aren’t political prisoners. These are politicians that have broken the law,” Ms. González Laya said in an interview.
“The question is, do you have in Spain the ability to express a different opinion? Answer: Yes. Do you have the right to unilaterally decide that you break up the country? No,” she added.
But David Bondia, an international law professor in Barcelona, said that the Spanish government was considering an overhaul that would weaken its sedition laws, something he sees as an admission that there had been a mistake in jailing the separatist leaders.
Mr. Cuixart’s case was even more problematic from a legal view. He was the head of a cultural group, yet his sedition trial was conducted under a legal framework reserved for politicians, Mr. Bondia said, raising due-process questions.
For Carles Puigdemont, the former president of Catalonia who led the referendum push, the situation recalls the days of the Franco dictatorship, when political opponents lived in fear of persecution.
“For us, this has hit hard and brought us to the past,” he said.
Mr. Puigdemont, who is also wanted on sedition charges, fled Spain in 2017 for Belgium, where he serves in the European Parliament. But his parliamentary immunity was removed in March, allowing for him to be extradited.
approved by voters and the regional Parliament. The move brought widespread anger and separatist flags became common in the countryside.
Soon, Parliament was discussing a move to declare an independent state, long considered a pipe dream of radicals.
Mr. Cuixart, who by 2015 had become the president of Omnium, was sometimes conflicted that his group had also joined the independence push — it was a cultural organization after all, not a political one. But in the end, he said that not joining would have been standing on the wrong side of history.
The crucial day came for Mr. Cuixart on Sept. 20, 2017, when the Spanish police, trying to stop the independence referendum from taking place, had stormed a Catalan regional ministry building on suspicions that plans for the vote were being organized there. But a giant crowd surrounded the location.
Mr. Cuixart and a pro-independence leader, Jordi Sánchez, tried to mediate between the protesters and the police. They set up pathways through the crowd for officers to enter the building and made announcements that anyone considering violence was a “traitor.”
As the night wore on, Mr. Cuixart said that he had feared violent clashes. In a recording, he is seen on top of a vehicle calling for the crowd to disperse. Despite jeers from the protesters, most left and Mr. Cuixart said that he then went to bed.
The vote was held amid the crackdown the next month. But Mr. Cuixart recalled an earlier act of civil disobedience when there were no consequences after he dodged a military draft as a young man. He thought he had little to fear this time around.
But then the charges came: sedition, one of the highest crimes in Spain. Such draconian charges for activity at a protest surprised even legal experts who said that the sedition laws — which cover crimes less serious than full-out rebellion — had been rarely used in a country.
“I had to look up what ‘sedition’ even was,” Mr. Cuixart said.
Mr. Cuixart now spends his days at the Lledoners prison, a penitentiary built for about 1,000 inmates, and home to convicted drug peddlers and murderers. He said he spends his afternoons meditating and writing letters.
Jordi Cañas, a Spanish member of the European Parliament who is against Catalan independence, said he felt little pity for Mr. Cuixart’s situation because the separatists brought it on themselves.
“I don’t forgive them because they’ve broken our society,” Mr. Cañas said, adding that the independence push still divided Spanish homes. “I have friends I no longer speak to over this.”
Mr. Cuixart, for his part, said he was not asking for forgiveness. He would do it all over again, he said. It was Spain that needed to change, he said, not him.
“At some point, Spain is going to have to reflect and ask themselves, ‘What are they going to do with me?’” he said. “Eliminate me? They can’t.”
Leire Ariz Sarasketa contributed reporting from Madrid.
Indonesia’s top intelligence official in Papua Province was a one-star general who did not believe in leading from his office. A Bali native, Brig. Gen. I Gusti Putu Danny Karya Nugraha rose through the ranks of Indonesia’s feared special forces and often went on patrol with troops in areas where separatist rebels were known to stage attacks.
“Ambushes and gunfights are common,” said Wawan Hari Purwanto, a spokesman for the State Intelligence Agency. “But he always chose to be at the front in every patrol and observation, including in gunfights. He didn’t want to be just behind a desk.”
On Sunday, General Danny, 51, walked into his final ambush. He was shot and killed near a church in remote Dambet Village in Papua’s central highlands. Now, human rights activists fear that President Joko Widodo’s call for a strong response to the general‘s death may prompt harsh reprisals against the Indigenous population in Indonesia’s easternmost province.
In announcing the killing on Monday, Mr. Joko called on the army and the police to hunt down and arrest every member of the group responsible for the general’s death. General Danny was the first general to die in action in Indonesia’s history, an army spokesman said.
takes up the western half of the island of New Guinea. It was occupied and annexed by Indonesia in the 1960s, but many Indigenous Papuans favor independence and separatist groups have been waging a low-level insurgency campaign for decades.
a local news outlet. There was no further explanation.
The ambush took place about 20 miles northeast of the giant Grasberg copper and gold mine, a symbol of the exploitation of Papua’s natural resources by foreign interests. Operated for decades by the American mining company Freeport-McMoRan, it was taken over in 2018 by an Indonesian state-owned company.
Mr. Wawan, the intelligence agency spokesman, said the ambush did not result from an intelligence failure and that the general was well aware of the risks.
“To die in the line of duty is a matter of the highest pride,” he said.
In a statement on Monday announcing General Danny’s death, the intelligence agency said it “continues to improve early detection and early prevention” of attacks by violent groups in Papua. The general’s visit was made in “an effort to increase the morale and spirit of the people who have been disturbed by the cruelty and savagery of the Papuan separatist and terrorist group,” the statement said.
seven Kopassus soldiers were convicted in the murder of the prominent independence leader, Theys Eluay.
Human rights activists said the impending crackdown could prompt retaliation against Indigenous people.
“Human rights defenders are really worried,” said Veronica Koman, an Indonesian human rights attorney and activist based in Australia who follows events in Papua. “We can already see that an additional military operation is coming to Papua because of this killing.”
MADRID — The European Parliament has stripped the immunity of Carles Puigdemont, the former separatist leader of Catalonia, clearing the way for Spain to make a fresh attempt to extradite him from Belgium and try him on sedition charges.
The European Parliament said on Tuesday that a majority of its members had voted a day earlier in a secret ballot to remove the immunity of Mr. Puigdemont and two other Catalan members of the assembly who face charges in Spain related to a botched attempt to declare Catalonia’s independence in 2017. Spain’s judiciary has charged that their bid was unconstitutional.
The vote on Monday ended a lengthy battle by Mr. Puigdemont and his colleagues to use their protection as elected members of the European assembly to shield them from prosecution in Spain. Now it is up to the Belgian judiciary to rule on whether Mr. Puigdemont should be sent back to the Spanish capital, Madrid, to stand trial.
“It is a sad day for the European Parliament,” Mr. Puigdemont said. “We have lost our immunity, but the European Parliament has lost more than that and as a result, European democracy too,” he said, adding that this was “a clear case of political prosecution.”
regional elections in Catalonia that increased the majority of pro-independence parties in the regional Parliament. Separatist politicians have held control since 2015, but the secessionist conflict has split Catalan society while also remaining a highly contentious issue in national politics.
ousted his regional government for holding a referendum that Spanish courts had ruled illegal and then declaring Catalonia’s independence.
During the past three years, Mr. Puigdemont has successfully fought off attempts to extradite him both from Belgium and Germany, where he was briefly detained during a trip.
Ioannis Lagos, who was sentenced in Greece last year for his activities with the far-right Golden Dawn party. The Greek government considers Golden Dawn a criminal organization.
The Catalan case has divided politicians in Brussels, many of them loathe to set a precedent of lawmakers being tried over political activity. The removal of Mr. Puigdemont’s immunity was approved by three-fifths of the members of the European Parliament.
It could take months for Belgian courts to rule on Spain’s latest attempt to extradite Mr. Puigdemont and the two other Catalan leaders, Antoni Comín and Clara Ponsatí.
The Brussels Public Prosecutor’s Office is examining the possibility of renewing legal proceedings in Belgium, a spokeswoman for the office said.
Should the Belgian courts block the extradition request, the Catalans would continue to sit in the European Parliament, but without special immunity rights.